Monday, March 28, 2016

Celebrating Shakespeare

"To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
-- William Shakespeare

Did you know that this year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death? It's hard to imagine a world without Shakespeare. He gave us so many riches -- language, poetry, drama, love stories, tragedies, comedies, and countless memorable characters. His plays continue to captivate us. There are celebrations occurring all around the world to mark the anniversary. Here in the states, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. will be the most exciting place to celebrate the Bard. The Wonder of Will: 400 Years of Shakespeare will celebrate Shakespeare and his extraordinary legacy through lectures, exhibitions, special events, and performances throughout the year. The First Folio, which is the book that gave us Shakespeare, is going on the road and will be traveling all around the country. Go here to see the schedule. This precious tome will make an appearance in California in June at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. I hope to make it there! Here are some highlights of what is happening at the Folger:

1) "Shakespeare, The Story of an Icon": Despite the fact that there are no photographs of Shakespeare or recordings of his voice, this exhibition creates a vivid portrait of the man through a stunning array of documents from his own lifetime. Go here to see a fantastic time-lapsed installation of this exhibition.

2) "Shakespeare's Life Stories": a lecture by renowned Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt.

3) "Shakespeare Unlimited": a series of podcasts by scholars exploring why Shakespeare's stories still resonate. They examine how the works, written so long ago, still speak to us today. I have listened to a couple of these and they are fascinating.

Go here to learn more.

And in Britain...

As you can imagine they are going all out in England. Lectures, performances, exhibitions, screenings, you name it. The schedule really is impressive. Go here to learn all that Shakespeare 400 has planned. Some highlights:

1) Exhibitions: "Shakespeare in Ten Acts" at The British Library. This will be a landmark exhibition on the making of an icon, charting Shakespeare's constant reinvention across the centuries.

2) Performances: "Much Ado About Nothing" in London. This production is set in 1945 at the end of World War II.

3) Talks: "The Grace of Plants: Shakespeare and Botany" at the Southwark Cathedral

4) Talks: "Shakespeare on Film." This series of talks will explore the inspirational influence of Shakespeare on filmmakers across the world, featuring films from the silent era, award-winning adaptations and contemporary interpretations of the Bard's work.

Go here to learn more.

Lily James and Richard Madden in the upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet

This summer Kenneth Branagh is directing a production of Romeo and Juliet in London starring Lily James, Richard Madden, and Derek Jacobi. This should be fabulous. Go here to learn more.

Ralph Fiennes in "The Tempest," 2011

I began to think about the memorable live performances of Shakespeare I have seen over the years. Here are a few that were breathtaking:

The Tempest with Ralph Fiennes at Theatre Royal Haymarket in London
A Midsummer Night's Dream with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson at the Mark Taper Theater in Los Angeles  
King Lear at the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in Oregon
Much Ado About Nothing at the Globe Theater in London
Othello at UCLA in Los Angeles

I also adore Prokofiev's ballet of Romeo and Juliet and see it whenever I have a chance.

And there have been so many beautiful film adaptations -- Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet and Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet and Henry V. Kenneth Branagh has given us many great Shakespeare productions, both on film and on the stage. His upcoming stage production of Romeo and Juliet will continue the tradition.

By the way, researching this blog post was a perfect example of falling down the rabbit hole of the Internet. But it turned out to be a good thing. After sitting in awe (and feeling a bit overwhelmed!) as page after page of links on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare came up, I whittled it down to a few that looked fabulous. I then saw one from the Huffington Post which I almost skipped. Thank goodness I clicked that one as it led me to the discovery that right here in Los Angeles there will be a fabulous one night only performance An Evening of Shakespeare: Murder, Lust, & Madness  in honor of the anniversary. If you live in L.A. and love the Bard, be sure to get a ticket before it sells out. This should be amazing!

I hope all this whets your appetite for attending some of these wonderful events in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare. It should be a glorious year-long celebration and a look into why Shakespeare continues to matter. It is sure to remind us of why the Bard still inspires, enlightens and entertains!


  1. There is a rather lovely new book Shakespeare's Gardens (by Jackie Bennett) that I'm sure you'd like, though it does rather bring home that most of what we see in Stratford today is Victorian/20th century. My all-time unforgettable performance was Anthony Sher in Richard III. Many years ago.

    1. Mary, thanks for letting me know about that book. I will look for it. That performance must have been wonderful!

  2. Oh I would love to see that Romeo & Juliet!! And I too love the ballet version (with the Prokofiev score) - I remember seeing Tamara Rojo & Carlos Acosta dance together in it once - magical!! Miranda xxx

    1. Miranda, I know you are a ballet fan like me. The Prokofiev score of Romeo and Juliet is so beautiful. I hope you get a chance to see the Kenneth Branagh production this summer.

  3. I would love to see that Romeo and Juliet as well. Have you ever been to a Shakespeare summer festival in the US? I went to one in Crescent City, Utah many years ago. At the time it was the second largest in the country, and it was fabulous. Would love to go to the Annenberg on the 23rd but big family dinner....I also loved Mel Gibson in Hamlet.

    1. Kathy, yes I have been to the Ashland Shakespeare festival in Oregon which was wonderful. I would love to go to it again. I'm sure this year will be very special.

    2. I've always wanted to go to the one in Ashland, this year will be amazing I'm sure.

    3. I go The Globe every summer with my book group. It has a wonderful atmosphere. Way back in the eighties I saw Dustin Hoffman as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. He was so good.

    4. I would have loved to see that performance of The Merchant of Venice. I saw a very good one a few years ago at the Broad Theater in Santa Monica!

  4. Dear Sunday,

    Just to let you know, that thanks to your mention, some friends and I went to see the production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at the Rose Theatre. I saw the ruins of the theatre many years ago, they were uncovered during the construction of a 1980s office block, and are basically a few stones in a concrete basement, standing in water seepage from the nearby River Thames.

    On booking it, I was somewhat disconcerted to find the Rose Theatre is still this flooded basement, and that there no toilets, cafes or heating! I was relieved to see there were seats, but still worried what I was bringing my friends to.

    I need not have worried – there is a wooden platform built across half of the ruins, and bench seats for about 50 people. The performance was excellent, very intimate, and it gave an extra shiver to think that Shakespeare would have watched the same performance in the same place over 400 years ago. It was warm enough if you wrapped up well, and all facilities were available about 5 minutes’ walk away at the Globe Theatre.

    I would never have known about this production but for your mention, which shows the amazing power of the internet. Many thanks, and do not be afraid to visit this theatre when you are next in London!

    Michelle Ann